Executive Summary

With more than 38 million motorists in the United Kingdom1, it is of vital importance that Britain’s politicians, transport authorities and motor industry take their views into account when it comes to shaping policies and plans for the future.

The 2017 Report on Motoring once again covers a wide range of subjects – from perennial hot topics such as fuel prices and speed limits, to more contemporary issues like handheld mobile phone use and the perceived impact of diesels on air quality – to paint a comprehensive picture of drivers’ attitudes and concerns in the UK today.

In addition, the Report compares current findings with data collected over recent years to illustrate how those attitudes and concerns are changing over time.

The Report is based on research and in-depth interviews conducted with a representative sample of more than 1,700 motorists around the UK.

Here is a summary of the key findings in the 2017 Report:

Motorists’ number one concern is now other drivers’ use of handheld mobile phones while at the wheel.

Irresponsible and illegal behaviour by other drivers causes a considerable level of concern among many of the motorists surveyed for this year’s Report on Motoring. The use of handheld mobile phones to talk, text, take pictures or videos, or access the internet, has been cited by 16% of respondents as their top concern in 2017. This is a significant rise on the 13% recorded in 2016.

There are encouraging signs in terms of drivers’ own mobile phone use at the wheel: the proportion of motorists who admit to using handheld phones while driving or stationary with the engine running has declined from 31% to 23%, though the decline was largely amongst occasional rather than frequent users.

There is generally a high level of awareness of the Government’s increased penalties for handheld mobile use – which were brought forward as a direct result of findings in the 2016 Report on Motoring that showed widespread disregard for the law.

It is likely that the media focus on this issue, as well as the Government’s decision to bring in stiffer penalties, has played a part in improving drivers’ behaviour.

Motorists feel financially squeezed with rising concerns over the cost of filling up and further increases in insurance costs.

Rising petrol and diesel prices over the winter of 2016-17 have driven an increase in concern over fuel costs: this year, 9% of motorists say this is their top concern compared with 7% in 2016, while 28% say the cost of filling up is a top-four concern, as opposed to 25% 12 months ago.

Rising inflation and the failure of wage increases to keep pace have meant that drivers are feeling increasingly squeezed in financial terms. With industry figures showing premiums are on the up, the cost of motor insurance is the top concern for 8% of drivers in 2017 (the same proportion as last year) but the percentage that say insurance prices are a top-four concern has risen to 28% from 26%.

Meanwhile, a rising number of motorists say their car tax bills and maintenance costs have increased over the past year.

The condition and maintenance of local roads has fallen from its 2016 ranking as drivers’ top concern.

Concern over condition of local roads has fallen back in 2017, with 10% of motorists naming this as their top worry against 14% a year ago. Nevertheless, just over half (51%) believe that the state of roads in their area has worsened in the past 12 months, and this proportion has not changed since 2016.

Alongside potholes, factors such as inadequate street lighting and safety barriers have received a greater share of the blame for deteriorating road conditions. While industry research suggests that the backlog in local road repairs and maintenance has not reduced, the RAC’s own Pothole Index, based on analysis of breakdown data, adds further evidence of a small improvement. However, it is not clear whether this is because councils are becoming more efficient in allocating maintenance spending or simply that we have had less rain and fewer frost days this winter than in previous years.

There has been a further small rise in concern regarding congestion and increased journey times.

With government figures indicating a rise in traffic volumes in 2016, it is not surprising that concern over congestion and journey delays has increased: this year, 8% of motorists say this is their top concern compared with 7% a year ago.

Respondents say that congestion has worsened to the greatest degree on Britain’s motorways, with drivers blaming roadworks, middle- lane hogging and heavy-goods vehicles overtaking one another for the deterioration.
Most motorists say they would use public transport more but are put off by high fares and lack of coverage.

The proportion of motorists who admit to breaking the speed limit has fallen.

Fewer drivers are claiming to break the speed limit in 2017, with 66% saying they frequently or occasionally exceed the motorway 70mph limit compared with 70% in 2016. For urban 30mph areas, the rate has fallen from 44% to 39%. We have yet to see evidence from other sources that support this, but generally government statistics on speeding run 12 months in arrears so are not yet available for comparison.

There is still majority support for raising the motorway speed limit, but this has fallen back a little from 65% to 62% over the past 12 months. Meanwhile a considerable minority of motorists would like to see 20mph limits increased – but again, this proportion has fallen back since 2016, from 41% to 39%.

Concern about the threat posed by drink-driving remains high.

The 2017 Report also found that there has been a small rise in concern about other motorists driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drink- driving is the top concern among 7% of respondents, up from 5% in 2016. Overall, 24% say drink-driving is one of their top four concerns this year compared with 22% in 2016, while 19% cite drug-driving as a top-four concern – up from 17%.

The proportion of motorists who admit to driving under the influence of alcohol has fallen from 20% in 2016 to 16% this year, with men and city dwellers most likely to admit to the offence.

The Report has found that more motorists who admit to drink-driving this year believe they have done so as the result of being over the limit the morning after a drinking session than shortly after drinking.

As previous Reports have found, a majority support a cut in the legally permitted blood-alcohol level in England, Northern Ireland and Wales to 50mg/100ml or less.

A significant percentage of motorists have concerns about pollution and the air quality in their local area.

Almost a third of drivers say they are worried about their local air quality – a slight fall on 2016 – but 40% say such concerns have increased in the past 12 months showing that there is growing disquiet about the general situation, even if this does not extend to a concern about the area in which a respondent lives.

Most motorists are aware of the Government’s plans to establish urban clean air zones, and there is strong support for action to be taken to ban the most polluting vehicles from such areas. However, a majority of drivers do not back policies that penalise all diesel vehicles irrespective of how old they are or how much they are contributing to the problem.

In light of emerging plans in London and elsewhere to impose extra charges on at least some diesels for entering the more polluted areas and for parking, there has been a sharp fall in the proportion of motorists (from 28% to 16%) who intend to choose a diesel car when they next buy a vehicle.

However, there has been only a small rise in the relatively small percentage who plan to buy an alternatively fuelled vehicle such as a plug-in hybrid, pure electric or even hydrogen fuel cell car.

1. https://data.gov.uk/dataset/driving-licence-data